Military units deployed in Saudi Arabia, on average, wait more
than two weeks to receive a piece of equipment that they requested
from a supply center in the United States. Two weeks may be deemed
an eternity in a world where one can get FedEx guaranteed overnight
delivery, but for U.S. military forces in remote corners of the
globe, two-week service is much faster than what they are used to.
The “customer wait time” in Southwest Asia is now 15.2
days, compared to 17.4 days two years ago, said Army Lt. Gen. Daniel
G. Brown, who retired from the service last month as the deputy
chief of the U.S. Transportation Command.
During a wide-ranging interview shortly before his retirement,
Brown said that the Transportation Command has made it a top priority
to shorten the process of delivering supplies to the troops. In
Bosnia, for example, the “customer wait time” has slipped
from 15.3 days to 11.3.
The buzzword that Brown used to describe the command’s approach
to expediting supplies to the theater is “end-to-end distribution.”
This means that, rather than wait for the supplies to leave the
manufacturing plant, get recorded and matched up with requests from
field units, the Transportation Command uses an advanced computer
system to register those supplies before they even come off the
assembly line and begins to make shipping and delivery arrangements.
By doing that, several days can be shaved off the supply cycle,
“We are scheduling to move items before they are turned over
to the transportation system,” he said. Brown described this
process as the “synchronization of supply and transportation.”
Even though defense transportation officials have reported successful
results from their end-to-end distribution efforts, the reality
is that more coordination between the supply and the transportation
operations would help shrink further the customer wait time.
One way to link the two functions more closely would be to merge
the key supplier of military goods, the Defense Logistics Agency,
and the Transportation Command. Brown did not specifically advocate
such a move, but he noted that discussions have been ongoing at
the Pentagon for some time, on how the two agencies could work closer
together to shorten delivery times.
Today, said Brown, “We do not have a single owner of the
distribution pipeline.” The Transportation Command, with a
staff of about 730 officers, civilian public servants and contractors,
is the “single manager” for the Defense Department’s
global transportation system.
The Defense Logistics Agency, meanwhile, is the largest of the
Defense Department’s organizations—with more than 24,000
employees—responsible for providing supplies to the military
Brown said it’s unclear whether the Defense Department wants
to merge the two organizations under a single command. “To
a large degree, there is dialogue going on at OSD [the Office of
the Defense Secretary] on how to better integrate wholesale supply
and strategic transportation,” he said. The more likely course,
he added, will be a “further integration of information management
systems and business practices. ... Whether there’ll be an
integration of formal command relationships remains to be seen.”
One study that has been under way at the Pentagon for several months
is looking at the “roles of supply and transportation,”
according to Diane K. Morales, deputy undersecretary of defense
for logistics and materiel readiness. During an Army conference
in late May, Morales said the plan was to see “how those two
functions can be merged.”
The integration of supply and transportation functions will continue,
regardless of what organizational changes may occur in the future,
said Brown. “We’ve been working with DLA for two years
to improve the distribution system. ... We’ve changed the
position of logistics stocks. We’ve tried a synchronization
of supply and transportation.” On average, the transportation
of a commodity takes up about 70 percent of the time in the distribution
cycle. The remaining 30 percent is consumed by administrative functions,
such as requisition and packing.
When a maintenance officer orders a part, for instance, his request
may enter the supply system at a DLA depot in Pennsylvania. Transportation
Command logisticians already can see the request in their computer
systems, so they can begin scheduling the shipment of that part.
Drastic cutbacks in overseas warehouses—about 51 percent
since the 1991 Gulf War—have forced both DLA and the Transportation
Command to adjust their business practices, Brown noted. “We
need to have a relatively unrestricted distribution system that
is significantly more efficient than in the past, because the mountains
of supply no longer exist.”
The drop in the number of storage depots overseas, meanwhile, has
driven up the quantities of critical war supplies—such as
ammunition and armored vehicles—that are being pre-positioned
in forward areas or aboard ships. DLA, said Brown, is repositioning
29,000 stock-line items, “so we can be closer to our customers.”
The technology that makes it possible for the Transportation Command
to track and monitor the status of every supply request and shipment
en-route is called “in-transit visibility.”
During the conflict in Afghanistan, Brown said, his staff has been
able to track between 95 to 98 percent of all items moving within
the theater. That would not have been possible a year or two ago,
before the Transportation Command upgraded the GTN, or global transportation
“We have a team 24-7 that does nothing but monitor the pipeline
[and] the quality of the data,” said Brown.
The GTN processes 2 million transactions a day, from about 6,000
accounts. The information fed into GTN comes from 20 government
and 40 commercial systems. (National Defense, June 2002)
“If you are moving anything in the defense transportation
system, we are getting data into GTN,” said Brown.
A new generation of GTN will come on line later this decade. The
command was scheduled to select a contractor in late September.
On August 29, Brown’s replacement—Marine Lt. Gen. Gary
H. Hughey—was sworn in. He is the first Marine officer to
be appointed deputy chief of the Transportation Command.